Universities: Incubators of Entrepreneurial Talent
Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute
Not too long ago, entrepreneurship education was part of the curriculum of few university programs across the country. In 2003, the Kauffman Campuses initiative started to help seed cross-campus entrepreneurship programs at dozens of American universities, thereby allowing more young people to explore their entrepreneurial potential. Other universities have since moved in the same direction, bringing entrepreneurship education into the mainstream of learning by offering entrepreneurship courses and sponsoring extra-curricular activities, such as business plan competitions. Other institutions, like MIT, have gone even further by helping student scientists commercialize innovations.
Despite being a relatively recent phenomenon, entrepreneurship education has already had a discernable impact on students and the economy. Over 60 percent of U.S. respondents to the 2007 Flash Eurobarometer Survey said that schools helped give them an entrepreneurial attitude and initiative. Most American respondents (59%) also said that schools helped them understand the role of entrepreneurs in society.
In an effort to more fully understand the outcomes of entrepreneurship education at U.S. universities, the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy recently conducted an initial analysis of the impact of entrepreneurship programs at five universities. The results show that students who took an entrepreneurship class were more likely to innovate in products, services and production techniques upon graduation. They are also more likely to start or take a job in a start-up.
While entrepreneurship courses and programs have been proliferating rapidly on campuses with largely positive outcomes, more can be done to help students to connect ideas and build relationships that will help them launch new firms. For example, entrepreneurship mentorship at the career center is an interesting innovation. The University of Miami’s Launch Pad program is the first in the U.S. to make resources available to its entire student body through its career center.
Entrepreneurship education is not only meaningful for business majors. The Kauffman Campuses and the University of Miami entrepreneurship career center represented a breakthrough precisely because they were not tied to any particular academic program or department. At Launch Pad, almost 80 percent of the entrepreneurs have come from outside the business school.
Of course, for this kind of entrepreneurship education to bring the maximum additional entrepreneurial and innovative talent into the U.S. economy, the larger education system needs improvements, especially in the STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) fields. These improvements need to begin at the K-12 level, if not earlier. According to a 2006 Department of Education, among high school graduates, only 17 percent are considered proficient in math. As I mentioned in a previous article, the concern here is that, unlike university structures, the K-12 public education system does not allow the kind of innovative environment where new approaches to education can flourish. For instance, the top-down hierarchies at schools inhibit innovation. Teachers are not rewarded for being creative in increasing the attractiveness of those key fields for students. This needs to change. Only by allowing educators to be entrepreneurial can we hope to impart entrepreneurial skills among students.
High-schools seeking to connect their students to the world of entrepreneurship, can do like the 293 universities who have registered to host activities for Global Entrepreneurship Week during November 16-22. For example, the University of Wisconsin at Madison is planning several events, including an exchange program with Wageningen University in the Netherlands for PhD students focused on entrepreneurship. In addition, the university’s athletic department will be co-hosting an event called "Confessions of Bleacher Creature" in which Kenny Dichter, founder of Marquis Jets and business partner of Warren Buffett will be speaking. Cross-disciplinary events like these are going to bring in students from various disciplines. Education leaders and student organizations throughout the world continue to visit unleashingideas.org to sign up as hosts.
Colleges and universities have long been instrumental in supporting the growth of the economy. Entrepreneurship education offers these prime pipelines of growth drivers a way to become even larger contributors to economic expansion, innovation and job creation.
Jonathan Ortmans is president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues. In this capacity, he leads the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, focused on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation.